Friday, May 23, 2008

Some links

A busy day today, so I'll just provide some links of interest with minimal commentary:

1) Steven Pinker writes interesting books on language and cognition. They're pitched at the general audience, and they're full of pop culture references and links to current research, but not at a highly technical level. So little is really known about how the brain works, particularly with respect to which aspects of it are hard-wired through evolution and which are flexible, able to be shaped by environment, that there can be huge controversy over each of the schools.

Such is a current dustup over bioethics, as Pinker responds to a report from the President's Council on Bioethics, then becomes subject to criticism himself (article here containing links to the original report and more commentary).

I won't wade into the specifics today, but I worry when someone who is strong in one field starts using that reputation to make claims in another. That's not to say I disagree with Pinker here, just that there's a danger of his becoming another Chomsky, whose controversial views have overshadowed his groundbreaking work in linguistics.

2) Kevin Drum writes a week ago about the trouble that the conservative movement has found, that it has exhausted itself and needs to find something new. Ezra Klein argues that "the moment isn't providing the problems" that conservatives need (apparently feeling that life is a matter of faddish problems that arise, and one side or another is positioned to deal with them). His conclusion is that, once the old problems re-emerge, conservatives will once again be in the ascendancy.

I hope they're both wrong, that we see Americans come together to fix problems that are real, that are pervasive, that won't go away when the media gets tired of them. Medicare and Social Security, competitiveness in the face of foreign efforts, lack of affordable health care, global warming, reduction in the supply of petroleum, even a definition of what this nation actually is and should be - none of these are fads, to be dealt with by whichever party feels like dealing with them. We need all hands on deck working on these.

3) Hank Williams writes about how the Internet is contributing to a lack of focus, tying that to the ineffectiveness of advertising. It's certainly true that, if you see one ad a day, you tend to remember it; if you see a thousand, you don't remember any. And we see more than a thousand, just look around. One certainly has to wonder how many of the ad-supported sites and blogs will survive when they run up against people's need to eat.

4) Tom Friedman continues his new-found concern about the state of America, citing the power we've handed to the petroleum countries. He also refers to the new books by Fareed Zakaria and David Rothkopf, each of which predicts massive changes that will take away from America's influence on the world. As before, I await Friedman's recognition of his own contribution to this effort, how his cheerleading for globalization covered up the very real problems that quite a few of us foresaw.

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